Heritage listing explained

View a PDF version of this factsheet (305KB).

This fact sheet has been produced to assist owners of heritage properties in the ACT. It explains the benefits and effects of heritage listing, including listing processes and the implications of having a heritage listed property.

Having a property listed as a heritage place will have little effect on most property owners. It essentially means that if you wish to undertake works or development on the property, the ACT Heritage Council (the Council) will advise whether the proposal will have an impact on the place’s heritage significance. This advice will then be considered through the normal development application process of the planning and land authority.

Listing effects in brief:

  • Heritage listing brings greater certainty that future changes will be sympathetic to identified heritage values.
  • Physical changes may need approval.
  • Conversion to a new use does not usually require approval where it does not affect physical fabric.
  • Complete demolition is unlikely to be supported by the Council.
  • Heritage listing does not alter ownership.
  • Heritage listing does not oblige owners to conserve a place as a museum or open it to the public.
  • Heritage listing does not oblige owners to reverse any works done prior to listing; however, this may be highly desirable.
  • No approval is needed to sell or lease the place.
  • Owners can apply for heritage grants.
  • Owners and prospective purchasers can obtain free architectural advice.
  • See www.environment.act.gov.au/heritage for more details.

What are heritage listings?

In the ACT, there are two main types of heritage property listings – individual places and residential housing precincts. Objects may also be listed; for example, the Ethos statue and a 1948 fire engine at Forrest are listed.

These listings occur through the ACT Heritage Register, which is maintained under the Heritage Act 2004.

There are very few individual residences listed in the ACT. The majority of listings on private land are included within broader residential housing precinct listings; for example, the Garden City precincts. In most cases, these listings seek to protect the streetscape character, form, design and scale of the built environment, as well as landscape elements, to ensure continued aesthetic harmony of the area. Sometimes, particular individual residences within a housing precinct might be identified as having additional heritage significance which warrants conservation.

Why list?

Listing is the established world-wide method for managing heritage; heritage registers have operated in Australia since 1974. Listing is the way our heritage places are identified and managed. This safeguards the environmental, economic and social benefits of this limited resource for present and future generations.

As with zoning, the driving reason for listing is certainty. By flagging our heritage places, listing gives owners and the community certainty about what is a heritage place. The development of heritage guidelines for listed places provides advance knowledge about issues that may arise through the approvals process and confidence that future changes to listed places and surrounds will be sympathetic ahead of important decisions such as purchasing.

Early listing avoids the uncertainty, delays, unforeseen costs and unnecessary conflict that can result when heritage is identified late in the development process.

Types of heritage lists

There are four main statutory lists that apply in the ACT:

1. The ACT Heritage Register lists those places and objects of heritage significance to the ACT, and generally includes those places located on Territory land e.g. the Territory’s early Garden City precincts.

2. The Commonwealth Heritage List includes places of heritage significance owned or controlled by the Australian Government, including:

a. places on Designated Land which are managed by the National Capital Authority on behalf of the Commonwealth e.g. most of the garden and landscape areas in the Parliamentary Triangle and

b. places on National Land that are owned or controlled by the Commonwealth
e.g. The Royal Military College, Duntroon.

3. The National Heritage List includes places of outstanding heritage significance to Australia
e.g. Old Parliament House.

4. The World Heritage List includes places which have Outstanding Universal Value. The ACT does not have any places included on the World Heritage List.

Sometimes a place may be entered on more than one list when its values are relevant across different lists.

Heritage places from all four lists collectively demonstrate the unique history and achievements of the people of the ACT and Australia. As physical links to Australia’s past, heritage places trace the transition of the ACT from its ancient Aboriginal origins to early European settlement and pastoralism in the region to the unique culture as the nation’s capital.

The Register of the National Estate ceased to be a statutory list in 2012, but continues to hold information about a range of heritage places.

Other non-statutory heritage lists are held by community organisations and professional groups such as the National Trust and Australian Institute of Architects. These lists provide heritage recognition and information; however, they have no statutory implications.

What is listed?

Places and objects are listed when they have ‘heritage significance’. Heritage significance applies not only to old places, but can also be found in some modern places, such as the Callum Offices complex in Phillip that dates from the 1980s.

Heritage places demonstrate the length and breadth of the ACT’s rich history. Heritage significance and listing is not only about buildings, but about landscapes, gardens, parks, farms, streets, towns, cemeteries, Aboriginal sites, archaeological relics, bridges, dams, railway stations, objects and natural places. This includes both privately and publicly owned places and objects.

Across the ACT, approximately 1.3% of properties are heritage listed. This includes a number of ACT Government-owned assets.

Any person can nominate a place or object for listing to the ACT Heritage Register. The heritage significance of a place is measured using eight standard Heritage Council significance criteria covering aesthetic, historic, archaeological and social values.

To find out which places and objects are listed in your local neighbourhood and how these places are significant, visit www.environment.act.gov.au/heritage/heritage_register or the Australian Heritage Places Inventory at www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/ahdb/search.pl

Listing process

Consultation is a key part of the listing process in the ACT. There is an opportunity for anyone, including owners and the community, to comment on a proposed listing either in support or to object. There is further opportunity through the process for an interested person to appeal a decision of the Council to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

What does listing mean?

Heritage listing provides a balanced framework for managing change and for keeping heritage places authentic, alive and useful. Heritage places in the ACT are not inflexibly bound or ‘mothballed’ by listing. They do not become museums. Listing does not stop all change or freeze a place in time. Nor does it require the reversal of any works done to date or require the condition of the place to be upgraded, although these things may be highly desirable. The Council recognises that the best thing for a heritage place is for its continual sympathetic use and the Council assists, not hinders, such usage. Sometimes, this might require a pragmatic approach to enable new uses.

Listing is a beginning—the first step in protecting our significant places—not the end result. Statutory listing helps protect our Territory’s heritage places in three basic ways: recognition, approvals and support.

1. Recognition

Listing gives public recognition to heritage places. Listing as a heritage place or precinct is a mark of community distinction – recognising the special qualities of a place that can be useful for promoting resale or business. It will not change property ownership or open private property to the public.

Listing produces information about the history and significance of a place to help owners understand and manage their property. This information is published at www.environment.act.gov.au/heritage

2. Approvals for change

Listing permits sympathetic development of heritage places through an approvals process. This process follows the usual development application process prescribed by the planning and land authority for any works or development requiring approval. The authority will automatically forward your application to the Council for advice as part of the approvals process. Approval will be undertaken within the same timeframes as for non-listed places.

The process to gain approval ensures changes retain the significance of heritage places.

When owners submit development applications, the physical changes are assessed on their merits. In this assessment process, the Council provides advice to the planning and land authority about whether the proposed works will have any impact on the heritage significance of the place.

Proposed change which negatively impacts on heritage significance will only be permitted where it is proven that there is no prudent or feasible alternative.

Upgrading kitchens, bathrooms and services are common changes required to make a heritage home comfortable and contemporary for continued use. In most cases, internal features are not included as part of the listing of private residences and do not require advice from the Council. Rear additions are also common changes which are approved.

Generally, a change to the use of a place does not require the Council advice, unless the change also requires change to physical fabric. Minor works, day-to-day repairs and maintenance rarely need approval because they will normally fulfil criteria for exempt development for listed places.

Some works which are otherwise exempt under the Planning and Development Act 2007 require approval if they are heritage listed (e.g. carports and shade structures, skylights and swimming pools).

There is normally no obligation to conserve a listed place as a museum. There is also no obligation to reverse any works undertaken to date at the time of listing; however, this may be highly desirable.

No approval is needed to sell or lease a listed place.

When buying a property, it is the real estate agent’s responsibility to notify you of any heritage listing that applies. Additionally, any heritage status should be outlined in the lease conveyancing report in the contract for sale.

Heritage guidelines have been developed for Garden City and other residential precincts and are available at www.environment.act.gov.au/heritage/heritage_register

Guidelines directly affect the advice given by the Council to the planning and land authority about the impact of development applications on heritage significance, particularly in relation to determining ways of avoiding or minimising the effect of a development on the heritage significance of a place.

For pre-application advice on proposed changes contact the ACT’s free Heritage Advisory Service on 02 6295 3311 or ACT Heritage on 13 22 81. You can obtain advice on alterations, additions and conserving historic building materials.

For places listed on the National or Commonwealth heritage lists: call the Heritage Division of the Department the Environment on 1800 803 772.

3. Support

Heritage listing gives owners improved access to heritage grants and free architectural advice from ACT Heritage and the Heritage Advisory Service on how to make sympathetic changes.

Listing also provides information about the history and heritage significance of the listed place, from which you can learn more about its past and the reasons for its listing. ACT grants for conservation works are at www.environment.act.gov.au/heritage/heritage_grants_program

How does heritage benefit you?

For our environment: The heritage places of the ACT not only reveal the story of our past; they safeguard and enrich our present and future.

For our environment, sustainable development begins with recycling—heritage buildings and their embodied energy included. Recycling heritage buildings reduces our consumption of resources and ecological footprint.

The ACT Government’s Heritage Advisory Service provides free technical advice on sustainably upgrading heritage buildings for contemporary needs. Advice is given on installing new sustainable services in ways which do not impact on heritage significance; for example installing external water, solar and air conditioning services.

The Council has developed a general conservation policy for external solar, water, air conditioning and other services in heritage places, available at www.environment.act.gov.au/heritage/heritage_reports,_projects_and_publications/conservation_policies

For our economy: Heritage attractions often underpin tourism, enhancing long-term growth. Heritage places provide the material to promote the ACT and surrounding region. Limited in supply, the rarity and authenticity provided by heritage places are attractions that cannot be built or recreated anywhere else.

The successful ‘Canberra Tracks’ interpretive initiative is a series of self- guided heritage trails across the ACT, incorporating a wide range of different themes and types of heritage places . For more information, see www.canberratracks.act.gov.au

For individuals: For individuals, the benefits extend beyond the timeless character often found in heritage places. Studies show heritage properties can attract higher resale values (see link below). Price premiums attracted by heritage character and listing can also extend to adjoining properties.

Often, the reason for a listing is why you value and enjoy your property. In this way, the impact of listing is not cumbersome or necessarily at odds with any future vision you have for the place, but simply enhances and reinforces your opinion about the special qualities of the place.

Listing gives owners greater certainty that the heritage qualities of the area are protected. Sensibly maintained, the old keeps its appeal in the long-term and only grows in rarity with age. www.environment.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/581008/12_ACT_Heritage_legislation_-_Impact_of_Heritage_listing_2October12.pdf

For communities: For communities, heritage plays a major role in the appeal and life of neighbourhoods. Even heritage places with no current use or in a neglected state can provide the impetus for revitalising a neighbourhood.

Garden City and other residential precincts, as well as individual listed places, give a sense of pride not only to owners but also the wider community, often acting as a focal point of interest. These places help to differentiate the unique history of the ACT as the nation’s capital and tell a story of where we have come from and who we are today.

The adaptive reuse of heritage buildings like the Kingston Power House (now the Canberra Glassworks) and former Transport Depot (Bus Depot Markets) shows how retaining the old as part of a new use creates unique precincts and renews community life and enjoyment of a place.

Heritage places create and support jobs in our community. As well as jobs for specialist repair tradespeople and heritage consultants, heritage places support jobs for architects, planners, builders, building material suppliers, real estate employees, and the many people working in tourism for heritage sites, hotels, food and travel.

In other words, retaining our limited heritage resources is green and sustainable, is an investment and contributes to community building. Owners, businesses, residents and visitors all benefit as a result.


Figures are approximate for the purpose of indicating the percentage of ACT properties listed, based on data available at the time of publication.


This document draws upon a parallel document prepared by the Heritage Branch NSW Department of Planning and published by the Heritage Council of NSW.